Friday, December 14, 2012

A Tale of Two Women

For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. (excerpt from Luke 1: 39-56)

Although the story about a pregnant Mary visiting her relative Elizabeth only appears in Luke's gospel, it is logical to believe that John the Baptist and Jesus are related, though probably distantly. The Jewish community in Palestine at the time of Jesus' birth is probably both kind of small and insular. In any case, the story of the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth is pretty special because the Bible does not record many interactions of this nature--a  demonstration of love and care between two women. (A notable exception to this is, of course, the story of Ruth and Naomi.) 

The circumstances behind the pregnancies of these two women could not be more different. One woman, Elizabeth, is older, long married, seems to be fairly secure both financially and socially, and has longed to become a mother for many years. In contrast, Mary is very young, probably more girl than woman really, is quite poor and not yet married, and never had a chance to worry about whether or not she would be able to conceive. And yet these women feel a strong sense of mystical connection. Their faith tells them that they should regard both of these pregnancies as a blessing. Having children (particularly sons) is the most important duty of women and families regard it universally as a gift from God. In Mary and Elizabeth's day, sons mean more hands to work for the family's economic welfare, whereas nowadays children are seen as a financial burden upon their parents--a burden that can bring great joy, but nevertheless a real and challenging responsibility. 

The bottom line, then and now, is that pregnancy is more or less the same experience, whether you are very young or older, whether you have hoped to become a mom for years or motherhood happens suddenly and without warning. For a period of nine months your body is not your own, and then for a long time afterward (some would say forever) your life is not your own. Pregnancy can be a blessed state that teaches lessons about surrender, and about love. It is an experience unlike any other. But pregnancy can also be difficult. Certainly both women had moments of profound joy and moments of great anxieties during their pregnancies. Fortunately, they had each other. 

When you are in an important moment in your life, whether it is a pregnancy or a time of falling in love or a loss of a job or a serious illness, having someone there to listen and to understand can make all the difference. If you need to reach out to someone for help or comfort or an unbiased opinion, don't be afraid to reach out. 

And, even more importantly, it is good to be aware that someone may be reaching out to you for support, just as Mary reached out to Elizabeth. So many of us have lives that are so full that we can miss the signs that someone needs us. If I could encourage any type of prayer during this season, this is the type of prayer I would urge you to make--that like Mary and Elizabeth, you will be open to God's call, whatever form it takes.

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